Sunday, 23 October 2005

hear it through the grapevine

Originally an extract from 29/09/2005) Link no longer available.

Lord Kalms, life president of Dixon's Group
Knowledge is the most important thing that the boss has. He has to know everything that goes on in the business. He has to have an eye at the back of his head, be very sensitive, and be aware of everything that's happening.

To become a good boss you need a good grapevine system. And to do that a boss needs a lot of mates in the business. He needs people throughout the business -particularly as it grows and gets outside of his immediate control - who he trusts, who like him, will gossip with him on the phone and who feel relaxed with him. This way a flow of information comes.

The best way of running a business is to leave your door wide open and anybody can come in at any time. It was years and years before there was any resistance to just barging in my office. Eventually I just had to have some disciplines, but everybody could see me quickly if it was important, and the door was always open.

It's about talking. I always made the rule that bad news has to be given to me instantly. I don't care about good news. Don't phone me up and tell me you made a good sale; phone me up when something's gone wrong and I've got a crisis on my hands. People learnt that they could talk to me officially, or unofficially, so I was always aware instantly of what was going on in the business. That carried on even when we had 30,000 people. There were enough people who would chat with me and I was always aware of problems.

In a large business the boss has to walk the floor. He just has to be available; it's amazing what he'll learn. Part of my grapevine system is walking around, leaning over the desk of somebody and asking: "What are you doing", and telling them a better way of doing it, and that's a great secret. There are dangers to that, of course, because the boss is a very powerful personality and young people don't always appreciate his force and his friendliness and approachability. They might take what he says literally.

I remember once when I was looking at some new products that were in one of our catalogues. There was a new young buyer who'd put together a lovely range of watches and, in my usual style, I looked and said; "What a load of crap they are", thinking that he would defend them because most of the people knew me and knew that I was probing them.

This was a new buyer and he looked at these watches, listened to the boss and panicked. The next thing I knew all the watches had been taken out because he was frightened of putting them in the catalogue. It taught me a lesson that you've got to be careful that the guy you're talking to can take your stick.

There's no guidebook to this. At the end of the day, it's recognising that people are the only thing that matter in a business.